Marjorie Dobson’s collection of hymns and other writings, Unravelling the Mysteries, was published in the summer of 2019. As a consequence of Covid and the even longer-term impact of caring for her husband until his death in the summer of 2020, less has been made of Marjorie’s second collection of worship resources than might have been.
However, this is a book full of gems, helpful for preacher and worship leader alike, but also for anyone in need of a message of comfort, stimulation, forgiveness or hope – all of which Marjorie offers in abundance and out of her own life experience.
At Singing the Faith Plus, we know of Marjorie not only as a member of the editorial panel who compiled the texts included in Singing the Faith, but also as a hymn-maker in her own right. Nine of her hymns are included in Singing the Faith. Three of them are in this new collection as well: Born in a stable (StF 532), By a monument of marble (StF 131), and God, hold us, enfold us, through desolate loss (StF 733)– as well as her two texts published on StF+: It was a new beginning on the day the Spirit came and Safe, locked inside that upper room. Unravelling the Mysteries includes 40 of Marjorie’s hymns in total – some also published on the Worship Cloud website, but others written more recently.
Alongside the hymns, a number with new tunes commissioned specially for this publication, are poems, monologues, dialogues and prayers. From a writer who has often re-told individual New Testament stories in her hymns also comes biblical narratives creatively re-imagined from the perspective of their main characters. In “Afterwards”, Jesus’ mother Mary (a somewhat under-represented figure in Methodist literature) expresses her fear and confusion during pregnancy. In another monologue, she guides us through the harrowing hours during which she “wept and railed at God” while cradling her son’s crucified body. Jesus’ own experience of fear and loneliness is imaginatively portrayed in “Afraid and alone”.
Unravelling the Mysteries is laid out under the section headings Beginning, Faith, Grace, Choices, Sorrow, Resurrection. As Claire Wilson wrote in the Hymn Society Bulletin, “we encounter a God who is waiting to empower us. We are all potentially effective disciples, however incompetent, grief-stricken, ashamed, guilty, or doubt-filled we may currently feel.”
Christians’ need for confidence is frequently highlighted and inventively explored – even those of us for whom Psalm 100’s injunction to “Sing to the Lord” is a daunting ask. Marjorie encourages us:
Come crooners and crows,
Come singers from shows,
Come tone-deaf or sweet.
Or those with a beat:
Musicians or not,
Just give what you’ve got!
Marjorie knows how to share her down to earth humour, but as Claire Wilson says, Unravelling the Mysteries “never descends into shallow religious optimism. The reality of human despair and anger is fully acknowledged, and people experiencing depths of anguish are given a voice.”
Marjorie knows as well as anyone that living with uncertainty takes courage. In these off-kilter pandemic times, Unravelling the Mysteries is a gift to help us find that courage and centre our Christian commitment within the care of God’s constant love.
The above review draws on Claire Wilson’s account of the book in The Bulletin of the Hymns Society of Great Britain and Ireland No.301 (Autumn 2019).